I didn’t know what to expect, walking into a Russian slaughterhouse. The fact that Miratorg, a large corporation, had agreed to give me access was surprising. “We have nothing to hide,” said Miratorg’s PR manager.
I wanted to take pictures, so could I bring a camera?
Miratorg is proud of its gigantic, gleaming plant, which rises up from rolling cropland in the countryside of Bryansk, a province 250 miles southwest of Moscow. If it was in America, it would rank among the top 15, capacity-wise.
But getting access to these facilities in the U.S. can be difficult. And ag-gag laws have created a hostile environment for anyone who might audit a meat processing facility. And I understand why, because the slaughtering industry is caught in a difficult situation. Collectively, they have made good strides in improving sanitation, animal welfare, and worker safety. Plants today are a paradise compared to those portrayed in Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, about conditions in Chicago’s packing houses. Once the novel was published on this date in 1906, it led to a number of reforms.
110 years ago, Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle" was published. (Photo by @comradecowboys) It exposed the abysmal standards of animal welfare, sanitation, and human rights at a meatpacking plant in Chicago. The book sparked a public outcry and led President Roosevelt to sign the Meat Inspection Act, and the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. Today, meatpacking is a global industry. To see how far we've come since Sinclair's day, I visited a state-of-the-art slaughterhouse in Russia. What did I see? Find out in my two-part blog for @natgeo and @the_fulbright_program Link to Part One: http://bit.ly/1TIzj0c Link to Part Two: http://bit.ly/1Uub719 #thejungle #uptonsinclair #slaughterhouse #meatpacking #beef #meat #slaughter #cattle #cows #ranching #foodindustry #foodsecurity #russia #bryansk #miratorg #мираторг #onassignment #documentaryphotography #photojournalism
However, popular perception just won’t let the industry off the hook. It’s a reality Bill Rupp, president of JBS packing in Colorado, has grappled with. In an effort to create greater transparency about what it does, JBS hosted a press day last year. You can hear the sincerity in the voices of the plant managers via this NPR radio story as they give their tour. But it’s tough for a reporter encountering butchered animals not to fixate on gory details, like heads lying on a conveyor belt.
“I think it’s part of the evolution we’re going through on transparency,” Rupp tells NPR’s Luke Runyon. “We’ve seen it so many times, where there’s been a photo allowed, and then they zero in on the piece of meat on the floor. And then it becomes ‘Deplorable Conditions At Local Packing House.’”
Inside Miratorg, I meet two Russian versions of Rupp: Natalia Lomako, director of quality, and Ilya Yatsenkov, a senior technology assistant. They genuinely want to show off their facility. But to do that, first we change into white pants, rubber boots, hat, and insulated lab coats. I feel like a Stormtrooper.
Read More: National Geographic
Ryan Bell is a Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow traveling through Russia and Kazakhstan. He’s reporting about food topics for The Plate, and his travel adventures for Voices. You can also follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Storify.